I was put into care at the age of 11 by someone who was very close to me and three years later, I ‘graduated’ to the prisons – because that was all I ever knew. At the time, my friends and I started doing armed robberies at post offices and soon enough, it started to become the norm for me. I then started using many different drugs, with cocaine being the first drug of choice. Growing up, my ‘role models’ were all villains and I had set myself up for a life of drugs and crime.
By the time I reached my 20s, I had already been through the care system and the prison system and had a young family to look after. But I didn’t stop chasing a lifestyle which I would later come to find was only destructive. By this point, I started becoming involved in more serious armed robberies, including faking my identity as a policeman to manipulate people into trusting me, only for me to rob them of millions of pounds worth of valuables. I always kept my drug taking and criminal lifestyle hidden away from my children but all that really meant was that I could never be there for them as a father should be. To be a real man, you need to be there for your kids – but as a criminal, the only person you think about is you. I had so many problems within me that I knew I had to deal with, but I refused to. Self-medicating with alcohol, alongside all the other drugs, was yet another way of numbing the pain.
The day I got arrested was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.
From the outside, the criminal lifestyle can seem perfect but underneath it all, it is nothing but a disaster. When I was sat in the pub at 4am hanging out with criminals, I’d think to myself that this is normal – that I was normal – and that the people who had left hours earlier were the ones who weren’t. The more money I earned from my crimes, the more corrupted I became and by 2008, things had really taken a turn for the worst. I was renting cottages all over the country trying to escape from the police but really, I was just waiting to be caught.
Looking back, the day I got arrested was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.
Going to prison this time was a massive challenge but also the door to my recovery. Because I resented authority and society so much, when I would come out of prison in the past, I would return to the real world with a vengeance and would continue to embarrass, hurt and humiliate people time and time again – I never cared. On this sentence, things were very different. After I beat up a prison officer, a doctor approached me and recommended that I see a psychologist. They could see that I had no fear or respect for anybody and they said that this may really help me.
A few weeks later, a psychologist named Melanie came into my life and started to help me work through my issues. Up until this point, I had never spoken to anybody in my life about my childhood. All sorts of emotions I never knew were pouring out of me and I realised that there were so many dysfunctional parts of my life that I normalised from such an early age.
I then went to HMP Grendon, which is Britain’s only fully therapeutic prison, and continued meeting with Melanie. This place had some of the most complex offenders in the prison system, so at first it was something all very new to me as I had never been to a place like it before. The first person I met was a rapist and I as began listening to the stories of these men, I noticed that most of them were abused at some point in their lives before they went to take on the role of abuser in later life.
Being in that environment helped me to learn tolerance, which then soon helped me learn things about myself that I never knew or never wanted to know. It was emotional and powerful. Finally, I started to understand why I felt the need to drink so much. I started to understand why I was the way I was. I understood that my desire to find solace in the arms of loads of different women stemmed from issues I was dealing with from never having a stable family and foundation at the beginning of my life.
Being at peace with myself is a feeling that is incomparable to anything else.
Because of therapy and how it helped me to address what drugs were suppressing, I was able to quit drugs. Just before going to Grendon, I remember flushing a bunch of drugs down the toilet in prison and never wanting anything to do with them again. I told myself “What the hell am I doing?” That day, I made a conscious decision to make a change and to never again get involved with buying or selling drugs, whether that was in jail or out. By the time I reached Grendon, I was also able to quit smoking, something I struggled with for so long in the past. I was released from prison in January 2017, and I have never touched drugs, alcohol or even cigarettes, since.
After spending more than 15 years of my life in the prison system, coming out for the last time and being at peace with myself is a feeling that is incomparable to anything else. I am now in one of the best relationships of my life, with somebody who reflects my values entirely. I became a Christian in prison, which is something that is so important to me. I have written two books on my life experiences which will soon be available to buy. Despite my struggle with dyslexia, I felt a strong need to get both these books out there, and I wrote them both by hand. ‘Living Amongst The Beasts’ is about the environment I lived in at Grendon and how I needed this experience to find myself, while ‘Final countdown to my freedom’ is about my experiences of going to a Category D prison (the lowest ‘category’ of male prisons, often referred to as ‘D cat’ or ‘open prison).
I had so many expectations of D cat, but received so little when there. I was promised the safety net of a home and a job to go to once I left, but when I came out there was nothing. I just found myself being signposted to different services who couldn’t help me for various reasons. Studies show that without the stability of a home, ex-offenders struggle to keep out of trouble. I took these thoughts to Westminster and I do hope that my views will be considered because speaking up is the only way to find a solution.
When coming out of prison, my ex-partner kindly offered me a room at her place to stay, after she had learnt about the struggles I was facing to find housing. Because I had turned my life around and stopped all my drinking, smoking and drug-taking, my ex-partner could see how much of an effort I had made to change my life and just how determined I was to live drug-free – and without that, I don’t think she would have ever opened that door for me when I got out of prison.
I created Camden Against Violence, a media platform for the people of Camden to come together and tackle violence and knife crime.
Since coming out of prison, I have been in charge of running the Camden branch of Band of Brothers (BOB); a voluntary charity organisation created in 2008 to help men transition from ‘adolescent’ to ‘man’ by addressing their past. For me, I was still a little boy at the age of 45 and all the growing up that I did in Grendon through addressing my feelings was so powerful – which I why I am passionate about the work that BOB does for other men in the local community. I also created Sealing Futures, which is an enterprise built around supporting disadvantaged groups and ex-offenders to reach their full potential in society by signposting clients to fulfilling jobs. The project, which actually started from within prison, is built to motivate anybody, regardless of the things that might hold them back; such as a criminal record for an ex-offender; to take charge of their life and to show them that becoming an entrepreneur is within anyone’s grasp.
I also created Camden Against Violence, which is a media platform for the people of Camden to come together in solidarity and tackle violence and knife crime. I encourage young kids to maintain a positive vision for the future by stressing the importance of education, and also raising awareness of issues that I, myself, have in some cases struggled with such as dyslexia, using drugs and being in the care or prison systems.
I have also started reaching out to men in the community who are leaders in their own right, who have been able to turn their lives around, to be role models for others who are not quite there yet. I want men out there to know that once they explore their feelings, amazing things can happen.
I am happy with the way my life is now. I now live with my girlfriend, I am a part of three organisations that I am passionate about, and I look forward to publishing my books in the near future. I currently work for my daughter and her partner at their catering company called ‘Scoff Meals’ which I helped to set up. They pay me with delicious meals in return for my support of running the company, and I couldn’t be happier. I am never tempted to use drugs again and having less money to live on and spend with, also helps me in my recovery journey as it keeps me away from negative choices.
I feel remorse for the things that I have done in my life but that’s exactly why I am doing the things that I do now – to give back and to make a difference. I have seen people with the biggest defences make a change. I have seen people with the biggest drug habit make a change. Nobody is untouchable and everybody can be turned back to the light. My life without money and drugs is so perfect, it’s unbelievable and that’s something I probably would have never discovered if I never went within. When someone is able to express themselves, they’re a step closer to dealing with the problem.